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ASUS Shows Faith in Splashtop

Date: May 14, 2008
Author(s): Rob Williams

DeviceVM’s Splashtop embedded Linux environment looks to be sticking around a while, thanks to ASUS’ decision to make the technology available on all of their upcoming motherboards. To find out what’s new, we are taking a look at the latest version, as seen on the upcoming P5Q Deluxe.



Introduction


Splashtop, for the uninitiated, is an embedded Linux environment that we first saw with ASUS’ P5E3 Deluxe late last year. Since then, Splashtop has been rolled out into other ASUS motherboards, such as the P5E3 Premium, M3N-HT Deluxe and a few others.

If there was doubt that ASUS truly believed in DeviceVM’s technology, there shouldn’t be any left after today’s announcement. In a unique agreement, Splashtop will be featured on all upcoming ASUS motherboards, including the P5Q Deluxe, P5Q-WS, P5Q3 Deluxe and also the P5Q-E.

I’ve been told that although Splashtop will debut with these motherboards in this new agreement, the number will soon ramp up to 1,000,000 units per month. That means by this time next year, well over 10,000,000 people will have access to this technology on their desktop.

Dubbed “Express Gate” by ASUS, Splashtop is a heavily-modified Linux environment that’s built into a flash chip on a motherboard, allowing you quick access to its features. After pushing the power on your tower, you can be inside the environment in just under ten seconds, ready to take advantage of whatever applications are pre-installed.

When the P5E3 Deluxe came out last year, it was DeviceVM’s initial public release, and the features were rather slim overall. Featured was an Internet browser and also Skype, which could even utilize the mic. Made more interesting was its ability to connect via any LAN port, and even WiFi. I’m sure the WiFi would depend on the make of the card, but if an ASUS board includes on-board WiFi, it will work with no issue.

At first glance, Splashtop looks like an odd product, or one that has little use. It’s true that it’s a for definite niche, but once it catches on, it has the potential to help consumers realize its usefulness. Will it be of benefit to you if you leave your PC on 24/7? Probably not. The scenario I gave in my quick look from CES was that it will allow you to boot up quick, if the computer happens to be off, to find out some piece of information quick.

How many times have you shut down the computer and made it to the door to leave, only to realize you needed one last bit of information? With Splashtop, you click the Web button at boot, and can surf the web within 10 seconds of turning on the machine.

As we also saw in the article from CES is that Splashtop has a place on notebooks as well, and will be featured on upcoming ASUS products. Now that is something that would be useful while on the go. Splashtop uses less power overall than a full-blown OS, plus it allows you to get into the OS faster. That results in better battery-life overall, while still being able to check out whatever it is you need.

With today’s interesting announcement, I wanted to see where Splashtop stands as of right now. Since we last checked, there was little to do in the environment, but it’s been heartily upgraded for the upcoming ASUS P5Q series, which is based on the Intel P45 chipset.

Inside the P5Q Deluxe Splashtop Environment

Setup is identical to what we saw on the P5E3 Deluxe, with no need to touch the keyboard.

The first obvious difference is the background, with arguably looks cooler than the initial one. New icons can be found down bottom though, such as Chat and Photo.

The default resolution is 1024×768 (which looks humorous on a 30″ display), with the maximum supported resolution currently being 1440×1050. I am impressed it managed to actually apply that resolution, however, as the Gateway XHD3000 is not too compatible with Linux (as I mentioned in our review). No other distro I’ve used with that display has allowed anything above 1280×800, so I was impressed to see it work here.

On the next page, I’ll take a look at the Photo viewer and also the new chat application, and then finish off with a few final comments.



Photo Editor, Chat, Final Thoughts

The most notable new application is the photo viewer, which I assume is a home brewed application, as it doesn’t look familiar at all. The idea is straight-forward. It allows you to boot up and check photos fast. This would be more useful on a notebook, as you could be sitting beside someone on the bus and decide to show them your collection to pass the time.

One oddity is that while NTFS and FAT is supported, ext3 is not. The reason I find this odd is that Splashtop is Linux, and ext3 is a default file system in Linux. Admittedly, it’s easy to see how supporting Linux would not be a huge concern, but given how simple it would be to add the functionality, it would be nice to see.

All NTFS and FAT folders will be viewable without any configuration, so you can get right to browsing the machine and looking through your collection.

You can choose different view modes, such as the one above and the other below, or list view, if you happen to have a massive collection.

Those who plan on using Splashtop often can create different albums, all of which will require the pictures to remain where they are on the source hard drive. If they are removed, the album will show up empty.

Finally, you can take any photo and upload to Flickr with a few clicks of the mouse.

Skype once again makes a return, as well as Pidgin, which has simply been renamed Chat. It supports AIM, Google Talk, MSN, QQ and Yahoo!.

Like earlier versions of Splashtop, you again have a simple range of configuration options, including the ability to change the resolution, alter the input, tweak the network configuration and take care of other usual tasks.

The last feature I stumbled on was the EZ Backup and Super Speed, however these are unique to the ASUS P5Q family, and likely others if it proves to be a popular feature. It’s essentially a layman’s RAID setup, allowing you to either back up an entire drive (similar to RAID 1) or enable “Super Speed” (RAID 0).

I have yet to test this out, but will do so for our P5Q Deluxe review, which will be posted next week. The interesting thing about it, though, is that you do not have to go into Windows to change the configuration. Though Windows software is available to accomplish the same thing, the ability to do it sans an OS is a nice option.

Final Thoughts

When we first learned of Splashtop late last year, I think many wondered (including me) if the technology would be a “one-hit wonder”, so to speak. One that not many people would find interest in, and then as a result, would vape.

With the latest announcement from DeviceVM, we can see that’s far from being the case. Splashtop is here, and according to ASUS, it’s here to stay. It shows the confidence ASUS has in the technology if they are to crank up production to 1,000,000 motherboards a month, and because of that dedication, those who have access to it will grow in numbers fast.

As we saw with the latest version on the P5Q Deluxe, Splashtop is on the right path. It’s still not perfect, but that all depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking to chat online and browse the web, then you are covered. If you are looking to do a little more, then upcoming revisions should take care of that.

At CES earlier this year, ASUS had a notebook on display with a robust version of Splashtop that was in its alpha stage. On top of what we saw here today, that software allowed the ability to watch DVDs or videos and also listen to music. Once these features come to fruition, people will have a far greater reason to use it, especially if on a notebook.

Like a computer BIOS, Splashtop can be upgraded without much of a hassle. Included on the P5Q disc was software for updating the environment, although it asks you for a downloaded file, rather than searching online itself for one. Who you will get the update file from is up in the air. It would likely be ASUS themselves, unless the environment is designed to work on all motherboards with a given chipset, which could be the case.

Once again, Splashtop looks good, and I’m excited to see where it’s headed. DeviceVM will be cuddling up with ASUS at next month’s Computex, so if anything new is unveiled there, you can be sure I’ll post about it.

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